Lost cemeteries topic of public hearing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 7, 2012



LAPLACE – The. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has set a public hearing for this evening at Destrehan Plantation to gather resident input on the best way to manage a pair of cemeteries from the 1800s that were plowed over to make way for the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

The cemeteries, named Kenner and Kugler, are African-American burial plots that contain the remains of former slaves and their close descendants. They were removed around 1929 to make way for the Bonnet Carre Spillway flood control structure.

The sites are located on former sugar plantations from the 19th and early 20th century, according to Louisiana Cemetery Preservation. Iron and wooden crosses once marked the plots during its use, but no such markers remain. Both are now grass-covered fields situated near the Spillway Road.

Both sites have earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places and the Army Corps of Engineers wants to hear ideas from community members and those who may have relatives that were buried in the cemeteries. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Destrehan Plantation Mule Barn, located at 13034 River Road in Destrehan.

“The corps intends to preserve and interpret these historic properties as well as improve public access to the sites,” Chris Brantley, Bonnet Carre Spillway project manager, said. “This public meeting will provide a venue for open communication between the corps and key stakeholders, including the descendants of those buried in the cemeteries.”

Brantley said both cemetery sites appear to have unpaved access roads leading from near the Spillway road, but neither have space for parking. There are also no official designated position markings. Part of the plan includes adding signs near the sites and adding markers, trees and landscaping. The corps also may pave the roads leading to each cemetery and build a parking lot.

Corps officials have estimated that 250 to 300 African-Americans, many of whom were enslaved on nearby plantations, were interred in the grassy plots in the spillway from the late 19th century until about 1929, when the federal government began work on the flood control structure following the 1927 Mississippi River flood that inundated New Orleans and surrounding areas killing hundreds.

The long-term management plan for the cemeteries will also include reburial of cemetery remains inadvertently disinterred from the Kenner Cemetery. The corps is hoping to erect a memorial that will withstand the flow of water that occurs during the opening of the spillway.